Image of dog wearing cooling vest in the summer heat.

Keeping your dog cool in the summer heat

Summer heat can be hard on your dog. Not paying attention to the temperature can have pretty big consequences for your fur baby. Heatstroke, which can be fatal, can happen within minutes. Keeping your dog cool in the summer heat is vital to his health and wellness.

All dogs are vulnerable to heatstroke, but some are more suspectable. If your dog is a puppy, senior or geriatric, you’ll want to take extra precautions to protect your dog. Also, if your dog is a brachiocephalic breed; such as a French Bulldog, Pug, or Pekingese, or those who have heart or respiratory conditions, are overweight or physically inactive, are also more at risk. Dogs that wear muzzles are also at a higher risk due to their inability to pant normally.

Tips to keep your dog cool in the summer heat

Never ever, ever leave a dog in car

Even with the windows cracked, a car is far too hot for a dog in the summer heat. Even when it’s only 70 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car can reach 100 degrees in just a few minutes. 

Remember, dogs don’t sweat through their skin to release heat. They pant and rely on sweating through the pads of their paws and their noses to stay cool.  They are not able to regulate their internal temperature the way we do and can very quickly succumb to heatstroke, which can lead to permanent damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, and liver, or even death.

No matter how fast you think you can run into and out of the store, don’t leave your dog in the car.  Not only does heatstroke happen fast, but so often things don’t go as you had planned when you are inside. Unexpected delays often occur, and it’s never worth it to put your dog’s life at risk. 

Signs of heatstroke in dogs

  • Excessive panting
  • Drooling
  • Body temperature over 103 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Dehydration
  • Bright red or pale gums or tongue
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Uncoordinated movement
  • Mental dullness
  • Collapse

What to do if your dog has heatstroke or is overheated

  • Immediately move the dog to a shaded area or indoors.
  • Cool the dog with cool water in the tub, shower, with a hose or a body of water. You can also use a cool washcloth or towel and place it behind his neck, along the back, in his armpits, groin, behind the ears, and on the paw pads.
  • Do not use cold water, as such extremes could cause shock.
  • Never submerge a dog’s head in the water.
  • Call your veterinarian and let them know you are on your way.
  • Keep cooling the dog with wet towels, A/C, and fans until breathing returns to normal.
  • Once you are at the vet’s office, they will likely work to replenish lost fluids and minerals with IV fluids. They will also check for secondary complications such as damage to organs or change in blood pressure.

Acupressure for heatstroke

While you are on the way to the veterinarian’s office, apply gentle pressure to the three areas shown below to help your dog release heat and bring his body temperature down. Activate one spot at a time and press very gently with your thumb or index finger (short nails please) and hold for about 60 seconds. Move to the next spot and repeat. You don’t need to do this non-stop. Just cycle through a couple of times.

LI 4 – On the inside of the dog’s carpus or wrist, just above the dog’s paw, between the dewclaw and the second bone from the middle.

GV 14 – At the base of the dog’s neck, right in the center.

LI 11 – Bend the dog’s foreleg and place your finger right at the bend on the outside of the leg at the crease.

drawing of dog with acupressure points for heatstroke
Art by Nina Lutz

Keeping your dog cool on summer walks

Walks need to be taken shortly after sunrise or after sunset and exercise needs to be moderated. Summer walks can be much hotter than you think.  Even when you look at your phone and it says 75 degrees, if there is not any cloud cover, 75 degrees can be incredibly hot.  

Plan to take your walks as early as possible, most especially if you have a dog with a thick coat. Always check the temperature before you leave the house not only for the current temperature but also for what it will be when you expect to arrive back at home.  

Try to plan your walking route with as shade as possible, if you are walking while the sun is out.  Also, avoid walking on asphalt or pavement.

How hot is the pavement?

When the air temperature is 77 degrees, the pavement can reach 125 degrees. If it’s 86 degrees, the pavement can be 135 degrees.  That’s hot enough to fry an egg is less than 5 minutes!!  Temperatures that hot will burn your dog’s paws and also very quickly raise his core temperature leading to heatstroke in minutes. 

The lower your dog’s center of gravity to the ground, the faster he will overheat from the warmth of pavement as it moves up to his body. A low to the ground Dachshund will overheat a lot faster than a taller Labrador, whose ribcage is farther away from the pavement.

Sun, elevation and humidity

If you live in the desert, you are probably already accustomed to taking walks long after the sun goes down. But it’s not only the desert where temperatures soar. Humidity can be brutal. Also, remember if you are at a high elevation, the air temperature may not be as high, but the sun is extremely strong and surfaces heat up fast. 

It can be hard to fit everything in when you are trying to beat the temperature clock in the hottest months of summer, but your dog will truly appreciate your extra effort. 

Cooling vests for dogs

Cooling vests for dogs are a must-have for every dog that lives in a climate that gets warm in the summer. They make a big difference in your dog’s core temperature and they last for years. When selecting one, take your dog’s coat length into consideration as well as how much weight he can comfortably carry.  Some cooling vest can weigh 5 lbs when soaked with water. Others are much lighter weight.

Avoid cooling vests made with cooling beads that retain water. They can be very heavy when wet and take a very long try to dry, which makes them more susceptible to mold.

Cooling vests work through evaporation. Some can lower your dog’s core temperature up to 30 degrees for several hours without replenishing with water. Be sure to read through the reviews and specifications when choosing a jacket for your dog. Make sure it’s made from non-toxic material, fits appropriately, and will accommodate your dog’s harness underneath or has a D-ring for leash attachment. 

Use cold water from the garden hose to keep the vest cold for a longer period. You can also put it in the refrigerator for an hour before you leave. However, it is not recommended that you put it in the freezer.

Dehumidifiers are your secret weapon

If you live in a humid climate, a dehumidifier can help cool a room by removing moisture from the air and relieving the muggy feeling. This helps to keep your dog when indoors. Using a dehumidifier also makes it easier for your air conditioner to work. As an added bonus, it will also help reduce fleas in the house, who need at least 50% humidity to survive. Reducing the humidity in your house to less than 50% for a couple of days will naturally rid it of fleas, larvae, and pupa.

TCM Cooling Foods

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) foods are believed to have certain effects on the body, such as warming and cooling.  During the summer months, you will want to feed cooling foods to reduce the body’s inner heat. Keep these guidelines in mind as you plan your dog’s summer meals.

Cooling Meats
  • Grass-fed beef is cooling (whereas conventionally raised beef is warming).
  • Grass-fed bison
  • Salmon
  • Sardine
  • Rabbit
  • Emu
  • Whitefish

Avoid hot meats such as venison and elk and lamb.

Occasional use of warming meats such as:
  • Chicken
  • Pheasant
  • Quail
  • Trout
Cooling vegetables
  • Cucumber (add a slice or two to your dog’s water, but don’t over-do… cucumber is highly detoxifying and can be too much, so go easy.)
  • Green beans
  • Celery
  • Watermelon
  • Lettuce
  • Daikon
  • Alfalfa Sprouts

Other obvious but important tips to keep your dog cool

  • Always make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water.
  • Don’t leave your dog outside in hot weather.
  • When your dog is outside, make sure he has access to shade.
  • Don’t allow your dog to overdo exercise or play in hot weather. Dogs naturally want to please and often will not pace themselves. It’s your responsibility to look after your dog’s wellness and protect him from overexertion and heatstroke.

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